As far as sustenance goes, there’s nothing more irresponsible than eating at restaurants. And minimalist bloggers are never shy about telling you so.
While it’s always more cost-effective to gather your ingredients and cook them yourself, sometimes, for whatever reason, you just gotta eat out. For tightwads, it can physically hurt to shell out $10 or more for a hamburger or $3 or more for soft drinks.
But don’t despair. The upside of the spendy world of eating out is that there are infinite ways to save money eating out without sacrificing the experience altogether. Peruse this menu of money-saving measures and see which of them are tasty enough to stick to your ribs. And on that note: mmm, ribs.
Time your buffet trips
One way for heavy eaters to get the most out of their hunger games is to exploit an all-you-can-eat establishment. I could write an entire column, if not a set of Encyclopedia Eatannicas, about the finer points of getting the most out of buffets, but my No. 1 tip is to hit them up even earlier than the belt-above-the-bellies crowd of retirees. If you visit the buffet just before they switch from the lunch to dinner offerings, you’ll get the higher-quality stuff at its freshest, and at the lower lunch price. Imagine eating your third plate of mac & cheese before it starts to turn dry and orange. Live the dream, people.
Do drinks and dessert elsewhere
Booze, soda and cheesecake always seem like good ideas at the time, but only bring up indigestion when you take a look at the check and realize how badly you were gouged to indulge your sweet tooth or booze tongue. It’s always cheaper to put the costly add-ons off til afterward. Think ahead by hitting up a grocery store in advance and you can schedule an afterparty with invited guests gin, Mr. Pibb and Betty Crocker on your couch. You’ll save enough to justify your next night out that finishes up as a night in.
Look for cheaper alternatives to fancy joints
For every high-class steak house, there’s a dive that Yelpers will swear makes t-bones that are just as good. For every P.F. Chang’s, there’s a Pei Wei that serves the exact same food for cheaper, and without the need for a sit-down restaurant level tip. Do your research by scanning online reviews and your alt-weekly’s best-of lists. Dining aficionados swear that when you go high-class, you’re paying for the service and the ambiance. I say screw all that because the only thing worth hemorrhaging cash for is flavor.
Avoid paying for kids’ meals
While restaurateurs may have forgotten to add a badly needed ‘n’ to the word ‘restaurateur,’ they remembered to do something else: Cut the portions of regular meals by 80 percent, reduce the prices by 20 percent and then call it a kiddie meal. Don’t play this game. Either split up a portion of your massive plate of overindulgence to share it with Junior, or ask if they offer a free kiddie plate of cheese and veggies to tide over your whippersnapper. If your offspring is a big eater, just order a full-size portion, bag up what he doesn’t eat and use it to feed him or yourself the next day. And, with any luck, the day after as well.
Turn Tuesday and Wednesday into your weekends
I’m sure this has happened to you. You check your email, find some amazing coupon from your favorite place, then read the fine print that says the offer is only available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That’s because no one eats out those days, so dining establishments are willing to do just about anything to coax people through the door. Their goal is to get people eating out midweek as well as weekends, but instead you can just decide to make Tuesdays and Wednesdays your Friday and Saturday nights and settle for Ramen noodles and such when everyone else is hitting the town. You’ll get better service, cheaper food, and may even be able to stand on your table and shout, “I am the king of Tuesday eating!” without too many people noticing.
How do you save money eating out?